Germany and Egypt fight over bust of Nefertiti: will Zahi Hawass’s crusade ever end?

Egypt, egyptYou win some, you lose some.

Zahi Hawass is a man who is used to getting his way. The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has been fighting to repatriate stolen Egyptian artifacts for years, and more often than not he wins.

This time, though, he’s suffered a setback. He’s trying to get the Neues Museum in Berlin to return the famous bust of Nefertiti. He claims it was stolen by a German archaeologist a century ago who covered it with clay to hide its true value. Museum officials told the BBC it was legally exported and that it’s too delicate to move anyway.

The bust is the centerpiece of the Neues Museum’s amazing display of Egyptian artifacts, one of the best collections in the world. Nefertiti was the wife of the mysterious pharaoh Akhenaten, who put the Sun god Aten above all others in the Egyptian pantheon. Vengeful priests erased his name from monuments after his death in 1338 BC.

This won’t be the last battle in the war for Nefertiti. Dr. Hawass’s predecessors have been trying to get the bust back since 1930. What really needs to be done is for museums, governments, and archaeologists to get together and come up with a binding agreement on how to deal with these issues. Perhaps a neutral International Antiquities Court could be set up via the UN? At the moment Dr. Hawass has little power to force Germany or any other country to return artifacts, other than threats (which worked with the Louvre) or constant badgering. With a proper system in place, Dr. Hawass could get a good night’s sleep.

But having seen the inner workings of far too many museums and academic departments, I don’t hold out much hope for an amicable agreement. Too many people are trying to cling to their little bit of turf.

[Photo courtesy Philip Pikart]

Egypt to close Tutankhamun’s tomb

Tutankhamun, egypt, Egypt
The Valley of the Kings is one of the highlights of any trip to Egypt. In this hot, dusty ravine are some of the most remarkable tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. Paintings adorn their walls, showing the soul’s journey through the afterlife and the gods and goddesses described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Now the most popular of those tombs is going to close. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has announced he will close Tutankhamun’s tomb by the end of the year. Two others will also close. The brilliant paintings that make the tombs so attractive were preserved because the tombs were sealed. With thousands of people passing through every day, the tombs have become hotter and more humid. Paint is flaking off and mold is growing in some parts, as you can see from the above photo. It’s sad, but to save the tombs they have to be shut from public view.

Dr. Hawass has commissioned an exact replica of King Tut’s tomb so that visitors will get an idea what the original looked like.

[Photo courtesy user Hajor via Wikimedia Commons]

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